When looking into the life of a Revolutionary War-era Salemite named Ezra Northey I came across of bookplate of his and in typical fashion, went off on a tangent, chasing ex libris plates through the centuries. Book plates are interesting because they exist at the intersection of art history and book history, reflecting changing style motifs like any other art form. I am no expert, but the vast majority of them (before 1800) seem to have heraldic formats, with coats of arms and mottos. After all, these are personal statements: ex libris (from the library of …..insert name). These heraldic bookplates seem rather formulaic to me; I prefer the simple and pictorial styles of the early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The bookplate is by no means a modern invention, however; it actually predates the book but really takes off in the sixteenth century when Renaissance engravers like Albrecht Durer crafted very individual images for their patrons.
The bookplates below begin with a Durer example and then jump forward to Northey’s 1795 plate. Except for where noted, they are all from digitized collections from two Delaware libraries: the Winterthur Library and the William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection at the University of Delaware.
I included the armorial bookplate below, from Winterthur, just because I like the motto, which loosely translates to: neither overjoyed nor overanxious. A nice outlook on life! Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) was also an important Revolutionary War-era publisher and founder of the American Antiquarian Society.
The late nineteenth-century bookplate of another prominent Massachusetts man, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:
After 1900, the pictorial style really dominates in bookplates, and all the early twentieth-century aesthetic styles appear: Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts, Art Deco and expressionism. Below are examples from 1900-1932, all from Winterthur except the last:
Neil Wilkie’s 1912 bookplate by Edith Blake Brown.
The striking bookplate of children’s book illustrator Milo Winter, 1925.
For far more expert information and some great images of bookplates, see Salem bookseller Thomas Boss’s website: Thomas G. Boss Fine Books.